Microsoft has pledged to remove “all of the carbon” from the environment that it has emitted since the company was founded in 1975.
Chief executive Satya Nadella said he wanted to achieve the goal by 2050 .
To do so, the company aims to become “carbon negative” by 2030, removing more carbon from the environment than it emits. That goes beyond a pledge by its cloud-computing rival Amazon, which intends to go “carbon neutral” by 2040.
“When it comes to carbon, neutrality is not enough,” said Microsoft president Brad Smith.
“The carbon in our atmosphere has created a blanket of gas that traps heat and is changing the world’s climate,” he added in a blog.
“If we don’t curb emissions, and temperatures continue to climb, science tells us that the results will be catastrophic.”
The company also announced it was setting up a $1bn (£765m) climate innovation fund to develop carbon-tackling technologies.
How will Microsoft achieve its goal?
Microsoft has suggested a range of ways it could remove carbon from the atmosphere, including:
- seeding new forests and expanding existing ones
- soil carbon sequestration – a process of putting carbon back into the ground. This could be achieved by adding microbes and nutrients to parched earth, which should have the added benefits of making the soil more fertile and less susceptible to erosion
- direct air capture – sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, possibly by using large fans to move air through a filter that can remove the gas
- bio-energy with carbon capture – growing crops and then capturing the CO2 they emit when, for example, they are burned to produce heat or fermented to make fuels such as bioethanol. Negative emissions become possible if the amount of CO2 stored as a result is greater than that emitted during production, transport and use
By one estimate, the sector will account for up to 3.6% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions this year, more than double the level in 2007. And it has been forecast that in a worst-case scenario, this could grow to 14% by 2040.
Microsoft has said it plans to halve emissions created directly by itself and those involved in its supply chain by 2030.
One way the company intends to do this is by increasing the carbon fees it charges its internal business groups.
Since 2012, Microsoft has forced its divisions to set budgets that take account of the cost of emissions created through electricity use, business travel and other activities.
Now that charge will incorporate indirect emissions such as those created by customers using electricity to power the divisions’ products.
And since Microsoft cannot avoid producing CO2 altogether, it will invest in technologies to capture and store the gas to reduce the amount in the atmosphere.
Mr Smith said this would involve tech “that doesn’t fully exist today”.
The firm added that its data centres and other facilities would use 100% renewable energy by 2025.